I was watching some television programming involving a certain Midwestern state tonight, and I found myself appalled, disgusted, and horrified by what I saw. I was watching perhaps the most soul-sucking, scream-inducing boondoggle that the world has ever seen.
Then I began watching the Iowa caucus coverage.
Seriously, it's a weird day when football depresses you more than politics. But after Virginia Tech mailed in a lifeless performance in a loss to Kansas (who, I admit it, was better than I expected) in the Orange Bowl, I figured I'd have better luck following the election returns.
First, the hard data. Obama won the Democratic caucus with 37%, followed by Edwards and Clinton in a virtual tie for second at 30%, and Richardson languishing on the margins of relevance at 2%. On the Republican side, Huckabee won handily, claiming 34% of the vote; he was followed by Romney at 26%, Thompson and McCain tied with 13%, Paul was fifth with 10%, then Giuliani at 4%.
Not much can be learned from Iowa, really - though the caucuses set turnout records this year, they're still a bizarre ritual occurring in a small state. New Hampshire - which is a real election - is a better barometer; the February 5th mess will be decisive. Anyway, here are my thoughts:
Obama's organization is better than we thought. Until now, the conventional wisdom was that Obama's support was a bunch of loosely organized but passionate youngsters. As it turns out, Obama's support is young, but well enough organized to get craploads of people to the polls.
The Ron Paul R[evol]ution is, at least partially, for real. Paul pullling double-digits was probably the biggest surprise of the night for me. I kind of consider Paul a "you guys suck" candidate who attracts Republicans and Republican-minded voters who don't like any of the "mainstream" candidates. Iowa is a test of organization, and this result shows that Paul is way better organized than we expected. Don't be surprised if Paul comes out third - or higher - in NH. Also, from what I've seen of Paul supporters, a lot of them don't really have a good second choice among the Republican contenders. A lot of Paul supporters will probably stay home rather than pick one of the other candidates - the size of that bloc is bad news for Republicans.
McCain is in better shape than Giuliani. Neither candidate had much of an organization in Iowa, yet McCain performed credibly while Giuliani was hardly relevant. This tells me that McCain's appeal is a little bit more broad-based than Rudolph's, and that voters will gravitate away from Rudy given the chance. We won't know anything about Giuliani's organization until Florida, but another awful performance like this in NH and he might not be able to recover.
Edwards is done - and that helps Obama even more. He won't get a better chance to win a state than labor-heavy, working-class Iowa, except for maybe South Carolina. He now needs to win SC to have a chance. If he doesn't, expect his support to go to Obama, since most of his attacks have been on Clinton thus far. This will pretty much give Obama the nomination.
That's it. We'll know more next Tuesday.